Catching up with the Sociable Company

Today I had a long Skype chat with Karen Adams of Express Telephony. You may recall that, a couple of years ago I did some work with the company on its social media strategy.  Two years on, they continue to to deliver a great service to their customers despite the limitations of the inadequate telecoms infrastructure which continues to hold them, and the rest of the country back.

Karen told me that her husband and business partner, Martin, is off to Cornwall shortly to set up the home of a company director with the tools she needs to manage her London-based company remotely. I am intending to work with them to develop a case study of this project as it demonstrates the increasing reality that, in the age of the internet,  location is no longer important to how you do business.

It is frustrating, however, that the country still lacks the infrastructure to realise the full potential of such modern possibilities.

Digital Inclusion – The Eleventh Hour is Here: Take these 7 Steps Now

As part of the brilliant HouseParty event, organised by Matt Leach of HACT and Esther Foreman of the Social Change Agency, I recently live streamed the second Housing Question Time. During the discussion, Nick Atkin, Chief Executive of Halton Housing Trust said something I have heard him say before, namely that social housing providers should be very worried about how they are going to collect the rents which currently go directly from Government to landlord when these payments are rolled into Universal Credit and made to the tenant not to the housing provider. See Nick say this below:

Nick points out that 75% of social housing landlords’ income is thus potentially at risk, and that, unless landlords find ways of ensuring that their tenants can transact with them online, they will have to employ a lot more staff to collect rents.

This is a key reason why Halton has been at the forefront of both shifting its transactions online and encouraging the digital inclusion of its tenants through its Digital First initiative. Here is the archive of the live streamed video from one of the Digital First open sessions http://tmblr.co/Z7HaYy1S5WHo7.

Digital Inclusion Strategy

I am often asked for what I think should be the key elements of a Digital Inclusion strategy. My first answer to this is that, although the end game of digital inclusion is to ensure tenants are able to transact online with their landlord, as well as claiming benefits and seeking work online, that should never be the route into the online world. If it is, they will see the internet as a chore not a benefit to their lives. My approach is very much to demonstrate that the internet brings a lot of joy and increased human interaction into people’s lives, and that those who are not online are missing out.

Social Media

The first element of any digital inclusion strategy should be for the organisation itself to be active and effective on social media. I often ask why organisations expect their customers to do digital when they don’t do it themselves. A good social media presence on the part of the organisation gives their customers reasons to be online, to keep in touch with what is going on around them. And if that social media strategy includes (as it should) online coverage of community and social events, people will want to join in, share your content with their friends, and get active in the social media sphere themselves.

Digital Champions

A lot of organisations make the mistake of making digital inclusion the responsibility of a small group of staff in a dedicated unit. The biggest potential digital inclusion resource any organisation has is its staff, in particular the staff who have day-to-day contact with tenants and residents. One of the big issues I come across is that sometimes frontline staff can act as a barrier to digital inclusion as they are not comfortable with digital tools themselves, so they are fearful of the implications of letting the people they work with loose on them. Thus (as I outlined here) it is essential that frontline staff are both enthusiastic about digital tools themselves and imbued with a passion to pass their skills and interest on to others.

Of course, staff are not the only potential digital champions, and it is vital that tenants / customers are included in these efforts. The great benefit of enrolling tenants as digital champions is that they can act as informal support networks for their neighbours. It also breaks through that “this is not for the likes of me” barrier.

Connectivity

Much digital inclusion activity falls at the hurdle of connectivity. Having a telephone landline can be a minority status in some social housing areas, and, although increasing numbers of tenants access the internet via mobile devices, many don’t have smartphones, and many of those who do run them on Pay-as-you-Go deals which can have minimal or no data allowances. There are some deals which offer cheap, basic broadband connections, but these can still be out of the reach of some tenants, and, of course, they usually rely on the property having a landline connection. Increasing numbers of landlords are implementing free or cheap wifi networks which can blanket areas with coverage and offer access at home as well as on the move. This is being recognised as a vital tool in the drive to increase online transactions.

Devices

Halton Housing is one organisation which has been experimenting with giving devices to tenants, on condition that they use them to conduct transactions with the landlord rather than face-to-face or telephone contacts. They have researched which cheap Android tablets work most effectively and have concluded that it is cost-effective to give away the tablets with the cost being more than met in savings on transaction costs. There is growing evidence that tablets are the device of choice, particularly for people who have never used a computer. There are other sources of low cost IT equipment, particularly recycled computers, which can be an important resource for digital inclusion.

Particularly when working with older people, I have found that the more you can present the internet through familiar equipment, the more likely it is to be accepted. A low-cost tablet connected to a TV via a device such as a Chromecast (which only costs £30) can help them explore the online world in a familiar environment.

Normalising the Internet

Walk into any city or town centre cafe or coffee shop and you will commonly see people tapping away at laptops and tablets. Walk into any community venue on a social housing estate and it is most unlikely you will see anything similar. Many social housing tenants can live their lives isolated from the day-to-day use of the internet that others take for granted. This is why we ran the Our Digital Planet project which toured shopping areas in cities around the country and, by means of a giant photography exhibition, put uses of the internet in front of people’s faces. And it is why the HUGO Bus arrives in Leeds neighbourhoods with a (metaphorical) fanfare and broadcasts free wifi to the locality. We have to find ways of demonstrating the centrality of the internet to modern life to those who have not yet caught on to its importance.

Breaking down fear and suspicion

This is not just about allowing people to have fun online and talk to their distant relatives on Skype. It is not even solely about encouraging them to pay their rent via an app or use Universal Jobmatch to apply for employment. It is a much, much wider agenda than that. Great advances are in prospect to people’s wellbeing through the use of telehealth and telecare equipment which can help people be healthier for longer and to stay in their own homes rather than in hospitals or care homes. And smart meters and energy systems can greatly reduce people’s bills as well as contributing to the fight against climate change. But the use of such technology greatly depends on people’s acceptance of them. Many non-internet users are reluctant in the extreme to share any data, even anonymised data online. They have to be shown how to keep safe online, and that sharing data doesn’t bring the world crashing down around them. These are essential steps towards achieving acceptance that sharing the data which telehealth, telecare, and smart energy systems require is a good thing, not a social evil.

Making it stick

Far too many digital inclusion initiatives rely on short term interventions which are assumed to have done the trick. But this often leaves people high and dry with no support and seemingly little incentive to take their internet use further. People need to be supported long term to ensure they can continue and progress with their online activity. That’s why Digital Champions’ networks are essential. It takes time to develop a fluency with internet use, and that is something which is often missing from short term initiatives.

The good news is that there is growing recognition that these steps are vital to the long term financial health of social landlords, as well as to the wellbeing and prosperity of tenants. The bad news is that there are still far too many who are not taking actions in these directions, and time is running out to get it right.

If you’d like to talk about how I might help your organisation in these areas, please drop me a line at john.popham@johnpopham.com or tweet me @johnpopham

 

Digital Inclusion on Wheels

This is an idea I’ve been kicking around for a while, and I’ve had significant encouragement recently to take it forward, so, I’m about to launch a crowfunding campaign and sponsorship proposal for a Digital Inclusion Campervan.

The Story So Far

Our Digital Planet Internet Station in Bristol

If you’ve been paying attention (and, if not, why not?) you will have seen that I’ve been experimenting over recent years with different methods of taking digital inclusion to where people are, as I am a believer in seeking out people in their natural environments rather than expecting them to come to centres or courses. In 2012 and 2013 I managed Nominet Trust’s Our Digital Planet Project, which took a giant photographic exhibition on how people use the internet to various city centres around the country and backed it up with a shipping container full of volunteers and laptops.  I learned so much from this project, and it was such a pleasure to work with so many people who wouldn’t have dreamed of searching out a digital inclusion “centre”

But, the thing about Our Digital Planet was that it was expensive. It took a lot of resources to move all that stuff around the country, and there came a point at which the numbers of local partners able to find the cash to bring it to their area just ran out. So, I then set about seeing if the same principle could be delivered in a more mobile form.

I was fortunate to bump into Sue Jennings from Leeds Federated Housing Association at a digital inclusion get together, and this led to a collaboration which became the HUGO Project, featuring the HUGO Bus (in reality there are two buses), bringing a more mobile facility to the housing estates of Leeds, and available for hire to go elsewhere.

2014-09-11 17.15.06But even the HUGO Bus has a significant cost to moving around, and there are some places where that size of vehicle cannot go, so I am still frustrated that there is more that can be done.

And so, I now want to downscale things a bit more still. I’ve already gone from Our Digital Planet which took 2 flatbed trucks to move it around, to the HUGO Bus which is pretty mobile, but bulky. Now I want to go to the Digital Inclusion Campervan. It will be a go anywhere, reach anyone, digital inclusion facility with free wifi, tea and coffee, kit and support.

I need to raise the money to make this happen, so I am seeking sponsorship, and maybe will go down the crowdfunding route too. Scouring eBay, I reckon I can acquire a semi-decent campervan for about £7500, and I will probably need another £5k or so to kit it out and put a livery on it. To cope for contingencies, I’ll be looking to raise £15000 in total.

So, any sponsors out there want to pitch in? Sponsors will get the opportunity to have their branding on the bus, promote their products through its work, and, well, you tell me what you’d want in return.

I am excited about this, but I need to test the water first as to whether there are sponsors interested.

Please get in touch if you’d like to support this project.

 

 

 

Seaside Recollections – A Project Proposal

This is an idea for a project which I think could be an important model for assisting with older people’s fading memories, as well as exploring and raising the profile of British Seaside towns.

I am looking for £30,000 to make this happen. Please get in touch if you can help.

Is the British seaside holiday dead?

  • Is there anything from it worth preserving, beyond its impact on the local economies of some fairly Isolated towns?
  • How important are the memories from our seaside holidays? Individually and collectively?
  • Can seaside memories play a role in helping people with dementia?

Everybody remembers their holidays, don’t they? For many of us they are the stand out moment of a relatively mundane year. Do you remember those long, hot afternoons on the beach, or that time staring out to sea while the rain pounded down on the roof of the car? If we are lucky enough to have holidays, they linger in the mind; they provide punctuation points in the narrative of our lives, and we return to them in our daydreams. But, how long do we remember them? Do you still remember your childhood holidays?

This project has a threefold purpose.

  1. To connect isolated older people with their holiday memories in an interactive, real-time basis in a way which both stimulates their memories, and sparks their interest in the potential of communications technologies;
  2. To collect holiday stories linked with particular seaside locations;
  3. To stimulate wider interest in seaside towns as visitor destinations.

How the project will work.

This will require participation from:

  • Charities and agencies working with older people;
  • Care homes and sheltered accommodation providers;
  • Individual older people and their relatives and carers;
  • Tourism and visitor offices  for seaside towns;
  • Local authorities and local economic development agencies in seaside towns;
  • Digital agencies and the local digital community in seaside towns.


Phase 1

Gathering Memories

The first stage of the project will be to collect older people’s memories of seaside holidays. This will be achieved through:

  • Video interviews with older people;
  • Collecting and digitising old photographs of holiday locations from older people and from other locations;
  • Blog posts and online stories
  • Stories emailed and archived

This material will be collected directly, by older people themselves, by friends family and support workers and collated to an online hub.

Phase 2

Curation and Training

Phase 2 of the project will be to work with the older people to help them to organise the material which stimulates their memories, and to relate those memories to specific locations. At this stage, older people, their carers, support workers and staff will be trained to interact and engage with the project. Equipment will be provided and training to use it to enable the older people to engage in real-time with Phase 3. And the locations to be visited in Phase 3 of the project will be chosen.

Phase 3

Seaside Tour

Phase 3 will be based around a seaside tour. John Popham will visit seaside locations chosen by the older people in Phase 2 of the project. During the visits he will interact with the older people directly online, using live streaming, video conference connections, and otherwise, and be guided by them as to what to see, where to visit, and who to talk to. There will be live, real-time interactions between the places and people John visits and the older people who are guiding him. This will further stimulate the memories of the older people, and encourage them to explore using new technologies to communicate and pursue their interests.

As well as interacting with older people, John’s visits will be an opportunity to explore the condition of the British seaside holiday. Guided by the older people, he will investigate what has changed, and what has stayed the same between the memories described by the older people in the project and the modern reality. This will provide opportunities for interactions with local media, local politicians and local government. The visits to each location will be maximised for publicity potential, and for the opportunities to generate discussion and debate about the past, present and future of the British seaside.

Opportunities will also be explored to collect and collate more material, gathered in the seaside locations themselves, to add to the seaside holiday memory bank and online hub.

Phase 4

Curation, collation, evaluation and future planning.

  • Pulling all the material together
  • Producing a video summary of the project
  • Publishing all the material online
  • evaluation against defined objectives
  • Planning future actions

What is needed to make this happen?

  • Funding for project management and delivery
  • Google Chromecasts
  • Tablet computers
  • Travel
  • Accomodation
  • Room hire

Please get in touch if you can help

 

Let’s End Loneliness at Christmas

I have been prompted into action by a piece on BBC Radio 5 Live this morning, about technology and social media aiding older people to overcome loneliness. Hurrah! I thought as I listened, finally this stuff is coming out in the open. You can hear the item below.

Every year there are stories about older people being isolated and lonely in their homes; and yet, every year there are advances in communications technologies which potentially offer cheaper and easier to use solutions (at least in part) to this problem. But there is no joining up.

What is the problem? I think society finds it really easy to hide behind its preconceptions and stereotypes about how older people would react to new technologies, and it uses this as an excuse to do nothing. And I think that technophobic professionals who project their own hangups onto the people they work with are a key barrier too. My own direct experience, through projects such as Our Digital Planet and Digital Tea Parties, suggests that, if approached in the right way, most older people will see the benefits of new technologies once exposed to them. So, let’s do away with the stereotypes and get on with breaking down loneliness. The lady featured in the Five Live report is a prime example of how this can work.

So, now I want to do something directly about this. I am announcing now that by November 2015 I intend to have a project in place that will connect people at Christmas. It will focus on bringing digital elements to Christmas parties in Care Homes, Sheltered Accommodation, Day Centres and elsewhere, with a view to leaving a legacy of older people who are  skilled and resourced to connect with each other and their friends and relatives over Christmas and beyond.

digitparty

So, I am looking for project funding, sponsorship, donations, and help-in-kind to connect up Christmas Parties in 2015. If you can provide:

  • funding
  • equipment (tablet computers, laptops, projectors, connected TV devices, etc.)
  • publicity

Then please get in touch.

And it’s not too late to do something THIS Christmas. Let’s pilot this idea. If you are running a Christmas Party for older people, you’d like to collaborate on connecting it up, and you can find a few hundred pounds to make it happen, then, let’s do it in 2014!

Technology can break down so many barriers. Let’s shout this message to the world.

Footnote

Only five days after originally posting this, I was able to run at pilot event in Trafford.  Here is the report of that event https://johnpopham.wordpress.com/2014/12/18/connected-christmas-making-it-happen/

Sun, Sea and Social Media, the Intinerary

Excitement is building for the beach-based social media event of the year.  And now, we can announce……

Sun, Sea and Social Media, The Itinerary 

Subject to change (if we find something more fun to do)

Sun, Sea, Social, Media

Saturday 16th August 2014

The Beach, Filey, North Yorkshire

11am   Meet, share notes, and agree roles for the day.

[Meeting point will be announced Friday afternoon]

11:30am Opening of the Social Media Surgery [Surgery will be open all day]

12 noon Video Workshop

1pm Sandcastle Competition

2pm Beach cricket tournament

3:30pm Knobbly Knees contest

4pm Vine Superstar Competition

5pm Close

Tell us if you are coming http://smbeach.eventbrite.co.uk

Are you really, excited, you should be!  Here’s a taster

This event is sponsored by Coast and Country Housing

Click Start logo FINAL-01

Sun, Sea and Social Media

12241434636_99340d5ae4_o

 

Saturday 16th August 2014

11am to 5pm

Filey Beach, North Yorkshire

and

the internet

Join us on Filey Beach, or online on Saturday 16th August for an extravaganza of social media, digital inclusion, and general internet capers by the sea.

This is event is sponsored by Coast and Country Housing Limited.

Register here

Sun, Sea and Social Media is:

  • a social media adventure, featuring a number of experienced social media users who will document their journeys to Filey and their activities on the day;
  • a social media surgery, offering real-time, practical advice to people on the beach on how to get the best out of using social media to enhance their holiday and beach experience;
  • a digital inclusion event, helping people new to the internet get online by demonstrating what enormous fun can be had on the internet;
  • a demonstrator, showcasing the power of new technologies in a beach setting, including a LIVE linkup with the Costa del Sol in Spain; and
  • a lot of fun! featuring live streamed beach cricket, knobbly knees contests, sandcastle championships, and other beach-based shenanigans

Join in the fun on Filey Beach any time between 11 and 5. Or follow the action online using the hashtag #smbeach with occasional live video at http://www.johnpophamlive.co.uk

sun_sea_sm

any queries

tweet @johnpopham

Register here

photo credit Paul Stephenson on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/paul_stephenson/

Social Media and Social Change – reaching the people at the top

This is a response to a plaintive tweet from Shirley Ayres reproduced above. I share Shirley’s frustration. We’ve been using social media for getting on for 10 years now. It is not new, but many organisations still treat it as a weird innovation to be distrusted and feared. This is costing them money and causing their service users to suffer.

Many of us have been chipping away at this fear and reluctance, usually from the bottom-up. Where we have failed in large part is in getting to the people at the top, those still wedded to old-style command-and-control management methodologies; those who were already in a senior position before the first computer entered their workplace; and those who still get their PAs to print off their emails. This has to change.

I’m going to do something about this. And this is what:

  • I’m going to try to crystallise the informal community of social good innovators I am connected to via Twitter – I suggest an online community (maybe a Ning) acting as a resource bank for innovation good practice, a source of mutual support, and a rallying point for action;
  • I am going to work with this community of people to try to get us speaking slots at big conferences where the senior people go. I am thinking of conferences like SOLACE and ADASS ;
  • I am going to lobby for funding for this network. Shirley has a really good idea where this can come from below.

Who’s up for this approach? Maybe it’s all happening already. If it is, please let me now. Duplicated effort wold be wasteful.

Introducing the WOW Bus

OK, this is a working title for a project I am working on, and I need your help.

Our Digital Planet - Bristol

If you follow my work, you’ll be familiar with Our Digital Planet, the touring exhibition, which visits, city centres, engages people through images of internet use, and then coaxes them to get online. Now, I’m working on a project (working title, the WOW Bus) which will do something similar, but fully mobile; able to go anywhere.

The project is at funding application stage. I am working in partnership with a largeish organisation which is putting a chunk of its own resources in and applying, with me, for funding to make the project happen. The plan is for the organisation to use the bus with its own clients, and for myself and others to use it at other times.

I am really excited about this. This needs to be done quickly, and I need to explore a range of options. Which is why I am asking for your support.

I believe in being ambitious. Maybe we’ll have to scale things down, but I’d like this to be a combination of Eastella’s Brilliant Bus, the John Lennon Bus, Peabody Trust’s Digivan, and New York City Housing Authority’s Digital Vans. We want it to create a buzz when it arrives in an area. It will flood the surrounding environment with free wifi and inspire people to explore the digital world. It will be the WOW Bus, because it will be a mobile Window on the World, but also, because people will say “wow!” when they see it.

We are going to explore all options, including buying and equipping a new vehicle. But, I know there are all sorts of vehicles out there which could, with a little tweaking and adaptation, become the WOW Bus at much lower cost. If you have such a vehicle, or know of one, please get in touch. If you can help in any way, drop me a line at john.popham@johnpopham.com or tweet me at @johnpopham.

Please help to make the WOW Bus a reality.

New York City Housing Authority Digital Van from http://www.nyc.gov/html/nycha/html/community/education_digital_vans.shtml

Rural Community Broadband Fund

cropped-burnsall-11.jpg

Over the past year, or so, I have been working with James Saunby of Grey Sky Consulting on a number of bids to the Government’s Rural Community Broadband Fund. We’ve been working with communities, local authorities, and other partners in areas which are defined as in the “last 10%” in terms of broadband connectivity. In this context, the last 10% means those areas which are unlikely to be served by the upgrades which are being rolled out via the main BDUK programme, wherein Government, local authorities and the European Union are investing in extending Next Generation Access (connectivity upwards of 24Mbps) beyond the areas deemed commercially viable by the main players. The BDUK programme will bring better connections to those who are located between the 66% of properties judged commercially viable and 90% (on average) of the population.

James and I have been working with communities and partners in Cheshire, Durham, Tees Valley, Kirklees and Cumbria. To date, we’ve had 100% success rate in getting bids through the Expression of Interest Stage, and the only project to have reached contract stage under the Rural Community Broadband Fund is led by Grey Sky in Rothbury, Northumberland (read more about this here). It has been great to work with some of the communities which had been in danger of left behind by the 21st Century, and set them on the road to benefitting from the same new technologies which urban residents now take for granted. It’s not a straightforward task. The technical challenges are one thing; the mindset of people who have never had the internet and don’t necessarily see a reason for having it, is perhaps an even tougher obstacle.

The current round of the Rural Community Broadband fund is scheduled to be the last. And, on Friday last week, we heard that the deadline (originally intended to be 24th May) has been extended to 17th June (although, at the time of writing the website has not been updated to reflect this). This could be the last chance for communities in the last 10% to have a crack at getting greatly enhanced broadband.

So, if you would like to work with James and myself to get better broadband please get in touch. But, do it quickly, there is not much time left.